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Comment: Treat everyone equally and fairly

Travlaw’s Ami Naru asks how important equality, diversity and inclusion are in the travel industry.

Pride month falls annually in June and brings together the LGBTQ+ community across the world in celebration.

As we are in the midst of Pride Month, with many employers embracing various activities to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, it feels timely to talk about why employers in the travel industry must embrace equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

First though, in order to embrace EDI, we need to know what it is. There is much literature out there, but in short:

  • Equality in the workplace means equal opportunities and fairness for all employees and job applicants.
  • Diversity is the different range of people in a workplace and embracing and valuing those differences.
  • Inclusion is having an inclusive workforce where everyone feels valued at work.

In recent years there have been many stories in the press such as George Floyd and campaigns such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter which have pushed EDI to the forefront and the Millennial and Gen Z emographics have grown up with EDI as part of the world they live in, so expect it in all walks of life.

With various calendar events such as Black History Month, Mental Health Awareness week, LGBTQ+ history month and others, the topic of EDI is becoming an intrinsic part of society and not one that any modern employer can afford to ignore without risk of reputational damage.

Many employers within the travel industry already have EDI managers, champions and committees and are ahead of the curve, knowing that they must and should embrace EDI.

However, not everyone is there yet and while many employers recognise that ‘it’s the right thing to do’ ,  or ‘we know we must comply’ there are still a few who don’t have time for it, even if they recognise there is room to improve.

The benefits of embracing EDI go beyond compliance or joining the bandwagon – they are far reaching. Embracing EDI will help an organisation be more innovative – think about all the different perspectives that are being brought to the table, which in turn will help an organisation hit their real business targets.

Employers also need to think about how to attract and retain the best talent. If you have a culture that is flexible, tolerant and open, you will be able to attract and retain the best employees.

Staff who get on and work well together contribute to a positive working environment and boost innovation and performance.

It will also be the case that those who embrace EDI will appeal to a wider customer audience. The more diverse your organisation is, the more it will appeal to a wide range of clients. Indeed, some work tenders or contracts require you as an employer to demonstrate your commitment.

It is also worth saying at this point that the Equality Act 2010 does not just apply to employment, it also applies to the provision of services such as selling holidays.

Aside from the above, as a lawyer I often get asked what the legal benefits are of having an Equal Opportunities Policy and providing training.

Firstly, it would reduce the risk (and cost) of possible legal action. Damages for discrimination are potentially unlimited and the employment tribunal has previously awarded damages of £3 million.

So those cases can be costly on all fronts. If you have systems and procedures in place to tackle discrimination in the workplace such as providing equality and diversity training, you can demonstrate to an employment tribunal that you have put in place reasonable steps to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

It will also reduce the risk of a claim in the first place, particularly if you have other measures in place to embrace EDI. Secondly, individuals can be named as respondents in tribunal proceedings, judgments can be entered against individual employees and damages are potentially unlimited. Evidence of training will help employees understand what is not acceptable.

The travel industry (more so than any industry, in my view) should embrace and celebrate differences in people across the world, given we want people to travel and enjoy different experiences. But there is always more we can do.

Embracing EDI is not just about policies, training and monitoring – it’s about living and breathing EDI as part of the culture of the organisation and indeed life.

Surely everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly, regardless.

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